In search of a way to stay busy during the coronavirus pandemic and support a good cause, a group of Oceanside students decided to hit the streets and create a lemonade stand, which raised more than $1,700 to help children with special needs.
Oceanside School No. 5 third-graders Lyla Murray, Lizzie Brunetta, Ashley Behan and Natalya Loscalzo took up the cause throughout the summer, selling lemonade at Loft Avenue and Nassau Parkway for 25 cents a cup. The proceeds went to the NYPD With Arms Wide Open charity, which helps families of New York City police officers who have children with special needs by providing emotional and financial support, supplying wheelchairs and funding horseback riding therapy, hotel stays and more.
Lyla’s mother, Elizabeth Murray, said the girls initially planned to donate the proceeds to the NYPD’s Police Benevolent Association, but after they learned about NYPD With Arms Wide Open, which was co-founded by PBA delegate Merritt Riley, they decided to change direction.
“We thought this was a perfect place to put the money,” Murray said. “You have kids coming together in Oceanside, their family members are cops, and it’s a wonderful foundation to help children of officers.”
Her daughter said the fundraiser was a great way to help families in need. “It feels really great to give money to families who need it more than I do,” Lyla said. “I was happy to see many people that we know and from school donate.”
Once the cause was known, many Nassau County police officers, NYPD officers, school staff and other community members came to the stand to show their support, with some sending donations via the money-transferring app Venmo. Elizabeth’s husband, James Murray, is an officer in the NYPD’s 9th Precinct, and he met Riley through their work with the PBA.
Riley said he stopped by the lemonade stand, and was moved to see such young people working toward a worthy cause. He founded the charity six years ago with Co-chairman Daniel Sprague. Riley’s son, Aidan, 18, has cerebral palsy, and Sprague’s son, Owen, 6, has Down syndrome.
“We were overwhelmed,” Riley said. “People have donated money from a number of different fundraisers. This is the first time that a neighborhood lemonade stand gave us money, and the amount is staggering for a bunch of little kids and a neighborhood lemonade stand.”
Riley said he was taken aback, because over the years he has seen many young people staring at his son because he is in a wheelchair and does not have full speech, and people have often walked away from him after he has said hello to them. The children with the lemonade stand were the opposite of that, he noted, adding that they raised funds for the cause on their own without anyone telling them to.
“The money is great because it helps us further our mission, but to see that young kids are learning at a young age that just because a person may look or sound different, it doesn’t mean they’re any less of a person or not in need of help,” he said. “So, to see kids take the exact opposite approach and want to do something special for these kids, it was like nothing I was ever used to.”
Over the past six years, With Arms Wide Open has donated nearly $300,000 to families in need.
The idea for the fundraiser came when Lyla and Connor’s babysitter, Krista Haefner, was looking for something constructive for them to do outside while remaining safe amid the pandemic. Haefner, who has two daughters, Lizzie, 16, and Maddie, 13, said she has watched the Murrays for nearly five years and loves them as her own children, and added that she was happy to help them come up with the idea, while also supporting police officers during a tumultuous time.
“With so much turmoil going on today across our country, I figured the kids would benefit from seeing the good in our law enforcement, rather than the bad,” she said. “They really put 100 percent of themselves into this fundraiser. It makes me so proud to know they enjoyed it as much as I did.”
Elizabeth Murray said that in addition to supporting a good cause, the fundraiser helped bring Oceanside residents together during a difficult time.
“It was a wonderful thing to see,” she said, “to have the community come together and be able to give back to people and families who need it. It was a pooled effort to raise awareness.”